Monday, December 03, 2007

A Lesson in Political Science for Gordon

Loyal readers of Thought Experiments will know that I saw it coming. Gordon Brown, I kept saying, is a Bad Thing. As, in power, his shortcomings became apparent, I noted how his supporters remained in denial.  Everybody had gone into counselling mode - 'Look, Gordon, this is what you must do to get over this.' This phase persists but is now rapidly being superseded by the 'face it, the guy's a write-off'  posture. People are beginning to think about Brown in the past tense and columnists who normally hedge their bets are simply tearing chunks out of the man - see Matthew d'Ancona and Andrew Rawnsley. The Rawnsley revelation about a Brown-Blair meeting is downright disturbing. In one version Brown stormed out saying, 'I'll get you over the peerages.' Blair was so shocked by his behaviour that he informed Gus O'Donnell, the cabinet secretary - whether to get it on the record or to beef up his own security and move his family to a secure location is not clear. But still there are people who persist in believing Brown can be remade into the man they thought he was. For these people I offer a brief lesson in political science. Most humans have spent their lives in political systems like that of Sudan or Syria - corrupt, tribal but, with luck, sufficiently incompetent to allow people to construct tolerable lives, though always at risk of the violent deaths of themselves and their families. Occasional outbreaks of a more civilised way of life - like ours now - are rare and cherishable.  Such idylls may appear to have some rational ideological content, like the foundational narrative of the US, but, in truth, they are the product of luck combined with the insights of a few good people. (Whether artists of genius are also required is an open question, though I hope so.) These people do not come up with theories, ideas or initiatives, they do not suffer from the illusion that they can improve things even further with bright ideas. They simply take the view that the important things is not to make matters worse - in a civilised society the downside is always a much greater risk than the upside because the downside is the default condition, the human norm. Modern politics requires that such people pretend to have bright ideas - 'I won't make things worse,' is not much of a slogan, though I'd vote for it. The important thing is that, once in power, they do as little as possible. Brown is not one of these people. He believes in bright ideas cooked up in rooms with his Little Sods. His supporters, meanwhile, persist in telling him to do more, in spite of the clear evidence that the more he does the worse he gets. He is, in short, dangerous, but, happily, he'll never now be elected.


  1. I posted the following on my blog back on 12 May 2007 - it makes interesting reading.

    Listening to Gorgon's speech last night while driving home I was struck by two things. First off, why if everything has been so good under New Labour is he about to change the way he runs the country.

    - He promised a new constitution that would "protect the Union"
    - One of his first pledges before parliament would be to conduct a widespread public consultation on future policy
    - I want to lead a government humble enough to know its place.
    - Public services exist "for the pupil, the parent, the patient and the public who are to be served
    - To distance the NHS from politics by appointing an independent board to run it,


    I've just re-read this and been struck again by the fact that GB is yet again talking about consultation, discussion and consensus. This is why he'll not be a leader. He hasn't got what it takes to do the job. Of course it's vital to do all those things, but don't bang on about them, it's a part of the job. This trying to pretend that we're all working together on turning Britain Brown is pure pretence.

    Second, if so many things were wrong before did he not have anything to do with it?

    - he signalled a move away from the "cult of celebrity" and sleaze allegations that had tarnished Mr Blair's years in office
    - his premiership would be guided by a "moral compass" instilled in him by his father, a Scots minister of religion, and his mother.

  2. At first he seemed reassuringly unsmiling, after 10 years of that deranged and manifestly insincere and meaningless grin.

    He now looks perpetually angry and gripped by a kind of incapacity for human contact. Exactly the opposite to Blair and in its way as disturbing.

  3. Politics is a crucible of live-for-today intemperance and corruption. If Brown was totally unprepared for the resulting hullabaloo, the forcefulness of the attrition directed at him personally, not least from fellow politicians, has been impelled no doubt by political jealousy. A minor indignity, no more, in the context of the recurrent waves of Scottophobia which run through English society. For it is the glee that so noisomely offends. And the details of his >culpability< in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, I will not even take the trouble to contradict. No more than a sequence of convergences, in my view, that at this point produced a curious alignment of aims and frustrated cross-purposes between the instigators of the two classic agendas from opposing sides of the New Labour movement.

    The Blair witch-project, it might be called!

    So, do you want me to join the lynch-mob merely because for the witless the only enjoyable form of entertainment is a public execution? Or am I to take it that the pivot of public propriety through all the turbulent bouts of these affiliations are his noble detractors Matthew d Ancona and Andrew Rawnsley?

    He is probably not perfect, but neither, Gentlemen, are you. The world consists of lackeys. The witch-hunt continues!

  4. No, not perfect but then again I'm not saying I can be a leader. If you want to get into the fray and the position you need more than weasel words to sustain you. That's Brown's undoing.

  5. Stock in this wierdo may be falling through the floor, but there's no sign as yet that the political elites sense an end to New Labour's fantastic splurging of cash - the quangos, consultancies and first-class expenses up and down the land, as well as the billions spent on buying up clients and buying off trouble. It's just a sordid scandal but waddya expect from politicians, right?

    Maybe they think the next lot will just carry on shovelling it out in truckloads, probably as the price of getting elected at all. Only when it's clear the political elites are starting to panic about short rations or no rations in the trough will any real change be under way.

  6. For me the whole hideous Brown thing has reached such a pitch that, inadvertently catching The Blair Years on TV last night, I found myself thinking hmmm maybe he wasn't so bad after all... At least he didn't duck and run every time there was trouble, and try to shift the blame on to underlings - he saw every crisis as one more hole to charm his way out of - and he managed it for a heck of a long time. Charm is another of the many human attributes old porridge face so conspicuously lacks. To some extent, a PM's job is to make us feel better about ourselves, to mirror the nation back at itself in pleasingly soft focus. Well, how do we feel now? What do we see in the mirror?

  7. 'I won't make things worse,' is not much of a slogan, though I'd vote for it.

    So would I. And I think it may prove to be a quite catchy slogan in time.

    happily, he'll never now be elected.

    WRT, politics, one of my guiding principles is "Never say never." (Others have alleged this is but a manifestation of my jaundiced eye, principle not being remotely involved.)

  8. The problem to me is that they haven't done much else besides being politicians. Hence everything is media driven, tactics rather than strategy. However, when you read a letter like this,, you understand that the little sods are just not as good as Cameron's somewhat posher sods are. And, as in Priestley's The Inspector Calls, it is probably the fault of all of us.

  9. What do we see in the mirror?

    We finally see the enemy who is most like ourselves: homo lupus homini

  10. Sorry Nige, Blair does look a class act next to Brown but his performances have been vacuous, his answers evasive. To really enact radical change and make things better Labour had to piss off loads in their constituency in the NHS, Public Sector Unions, and education. They didn't. Blair was boldest over Iraq, Kosovo etc. Domestically they have been inept. Ten years, billions wasted, some very nice new architecture here and there, but still 6m unemployed, shitty estates, rampant drug use and a poorly performing public sector. Blair knows this I think. He knows his reform legacy is slight. As for Iraq, the best you could say is the jury is out.

  11. Things can change pretty rapidly in politics though. He might just be inexperienced with the job right now and will take time to come into his own.
    He personally strikes me as a nicer guy than Blair. Unfortunately he has dreadful charm so he's doomed to be torn to shreads no matter what he does.

  12. Nige, Ted Bundy had lots of charm and almost talked the judge round against the death penalty.
    It shouldn't be the main thing in politics. Blair's charm allowed him to get away with tonnes of shit that most other PMs would have been held to account for.

  13. i think that aside from Brown's total lack of charm, he just plain doesn't like people at all, in any way. If he was basically good-hearted and fairly bright and organised and lacked charm, he'd still be okay. It's that he's manifestly an ogre - an ogre without charm is no good to anyone.

  14. Plato said:

    One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.